Debenhams rise keeps Burton on even keel

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The Independent Online
BURTON GROUP, the fashion retailer, suffered a 5 per cent drop in sales at its Principles, Top Shop and Dorothy Perkins outlets in the 22 weeks to last Saturday. But a 5 per cent rise at its Debenhams chain meant that group sales in the period were flat, writes Heather Connon.

The group also warned that its margins had fallen by 1.5 percentage points because it was reducing its mark-up in a bid to be more competitive and cutting prices to clear stock. The group is attempting to cut its number of sales periods.

'The multiples businesses are responding to the many strategic changes now in hand, but change of this kind, which was urgently necessary, is also painful,' Sir John Hoskyns, chairman, told shareholders at the group's annual meeting.

'It was always clear that to restore brand integrity in a highly competitive environment was going to take time.'

The trading statement sent the shares down 8.75p to 58.75p as analysts downgraded forecasts. Most have cut by about pounds 15m to pounds 40m.

Meanwhile, Marks and Spencer said it had enjoyed 'good gains' in all its divisions in the six weeks to 1 December. It kept its merchandise at full price before Christmas while the cost of the January sale was similar to last year.